Day 1: Finding Healthy Habits as We Wander

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By Amanda Cleary Eastep

Today my filmmaker friend Erin took her first step onto the Wicklow Way in Ireland. As part of a collaborative film project (to which my daughters and I have contributed), each day of the week-long journey will have a theme. All week, I’m “walking alongside” Erin via this blog and sharing my experience of how walking/hiking/wandering on purpose can help and heal us.

Day 1, Friday, April 28: Find Healthy Habits Check out days 2-7, too!

Hiking and spending time in nature has many health benefits – both physical and mental. Discuss ways that getting outdoors has helped you. What made you start? Why are you walking today? Do you have any specific stories of how walking/hiking has helped you?

My earliest memory of walking in the woods sets me inside the patch of forest preserve down the road from my grandmother’s house. The small house sat like a washing machine box with two windows cut out to let in the early morning sunshine and a view of the passing freight trains that roared and rattled by.

It was along those tracks she harvested wild asparagus, a paper grocery bag and steak knife in one hand and a large stick in the other to smack snakes. This was when foraging wasn’t a trend with workshops and Instagram followers, rather a survival practice learned and left over from her childhood.

The memory is small, too, like looking back at it through a toy telescope. And I was small. I see myself, maybe five, and walking beside her short and stout frame. In my mind, she looks the same as she did when I was 10 and 20 and 30, because when we age together, we weather at the same time, a gradual washing and blowing and eroding away like topsoil or shoreline, so we rarely notice the extreme of the changes.

Trees surround me, impossibly tall and looking down on me. To them I could be a ground squirrel or a clump of dead leaves caught in a wind gust that has broken through their throng and scuttles me along the forest floor.

That is where my grandmother points her middle finger when we stop for a moment. She always pointed with her middle finger, maybe because her hands were small and she needed to for maximum effect. She points at a plant about six inches tall with six or so leaves that all grow out from the center, like a drooping, green petaled flower. I imagine each leafy umbrella could shelter a frog or a fairy.

Today, when I hike the forest preserve trails in spring, I see those mayapples everywhere. I know them now, that they’re poisonous (mostly), and that one single flower blooms on each plant. I point out the mayapples to my daughters, but not with my middle finger since my hands are long like my father’s.

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That first walk in the woods with my grandmother ushered me into the “wild,” into an environment that was not my neatly mowed yard with the metal swing set and chain link fence.

Despite my small size, despite the trees towering impossibly high above me and casting a soft dusk in the middle of the day, I wasn’t afraid.

I was being introduced to the first world.

I was meeting God in the microbe and mayapple.

I was learning that we tread more lightly when we know their names. 

The “Healthy Habit” of Shinrin-yoku

Recently, Erin shared a video on the health benefits of walking in the forest. In Japan, they call the practice of walking among trees to benefit your health Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” (I can only hope bathers keep their hiking duds on.)

Trees reportedly emit phytoncides, which may have anti-cancer effects. According to serious Shinrin-yoku practitioners, being among trees has the physical and psychological benefits of lowering blood pressure, reducing stress hormones and depression, and boosting energy.

What benefits – physical, mental, spiritual – have hiking and spending time in nature had for you? 

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18 thoughts on “Day 1: Finding Healthy Habits as We Wander

  1. When I was young our back yard had woods behind it and we had some pretty large trees. We had a swing set way at the back and a basketball hoop on a tree. Trees have always been my friends and I’m not surprised to find that there are health benefits to walking among them.

    Thanks for such an inspiring post, Amanda. Blessings to you! Hope I see you sometime next week when we are at Jamie’s!

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  2. Mmm… I need to commune with the trees pretty soon. Sounds like the antidote to the stress I’m feeling. The woods always quiet my soul and make me feel strong again. I used to climb trees with a notebook along to write my poetry in when I was a teen. ❤

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    1. I used to climb the tree in my grandmother’s backyard. It was a perfect tree for that with lots of sturdy and tangled branches and smooth bark. I always loved when the wind would blow hard and I could hear the leaves strumming all around me.

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  3. My fondest memories as a child are those times when my parents would take me and my siblings to a wooded area where we could run free and explore.
    Dad of course was looking for mushrooms. He was great at knowing just which ones to pick. Then we’d take them home and have to clean them, the part I HATED! Always felt like I was crawling with bugs when I’d clean them for some reason?
    But they were sure yummy when dad cooked them up with his Italian flare of flavors!

    There are many memories, some bad, and many that I’m happy to say are good. A childhood is something no one should waste. As my brother Carl said, “A slow erosion to the end.”

    God bless you and all that you share with your readers. Auntie Linda

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  4. I love your description of Grandma and you growing, as it were, old together and not noticing the gradual changes that take place. The slow erosion to the end, not drastic changes. God’s creation has a way of making you feel His presence and His love. Dad

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  5. I’m excited to read along on this project!
    I should take up forest bathing as a spiritual practice. I find I crave time in nature more and more.

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    1. I’m glad, Amelia! Be sure to visit Erin’s Wander on Purpose Facebook page to see photos. I would love to hear if nature or taking walks has positively affected you. With this post, I loved discovering that something I practice has such a cool Japanese name. It really is an immersion in quiet.

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